A S K T H E
M c S W E E N E Y ' S
C A T C H P O L E
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In order to bring comfort to the
unaided, and aid to the discomforted, the McSweeney's Catchpole (M.C.)
will respond as needed to your inquiries, hopefully providing the respite
you seek, on this very page. Send queries to email@example.com,
and include ASK MC in your subject heading. Please write with concision
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In the generally successful "Terms of Betrayal" piece (no spelling errors, nice token-type relations), one possibly fluffed note.
How is "I feel your pain" an instance of Ethopoeia?
Dear Dr. Sanders:
In the course of reviewing this item, three different editor-persons were asked to vet the propriety of the terminology, each with varying levels of intellectual credentials in rhetoric (a rhetorician was not consulted in any case, but only because we don't readily know any). We failed to reach consensus on several items, and the compromise was to publish it as is and see if the readership would find fault. We didn't, however, anticipate any issue with Ethopoeia.
One of our primary sources was the very helpful site "Silva Rhetoricae", maintained by Gideon O. Burton, which defines Ethopoiea as: 'The description and portrayal of a character (natural propensities, manners and affections, etc.). A kind of enargia.' Our secondary source, the OED, is similar: "Delineation of character; moral portraiture" and provides the following cite from Edward Phillips, "A figure of Rhetorick in which there is a feigning of certain words accommodated to certain persons, either to their praise or reproach."
Taken literally, it then applies that the speaker is referring to the subject as in pain (satisfying the descriptive qualification), implying that the subject has expressed pain, as much as it may seem to be a hypocritical position. Also, it might be read that the speaker is feeling the pain of the subject (that is, caused by the subject), not the subject's pain, which renders a moral portrait of the subject, one which should be clear from the other tropes listed prior. Additionally, that the subject would attempt to circumvent responsibility by claiming to be in pain as well would also provide moral characterization.
A common error is to attribute this quote to the president, though this piece was in fact, written prior to the incident that made this phrase famous. The author, however, was pleased that it is now so closely associated with a known philanderer, as it then serves to associate the subject with the president and his standards of fidelity, which would constitute a moral description.
Granted, the textual evidence is not this granular, but we felt that the subject matter was global enough for readers to make inferences based on the 'typical' behavior in these circumstances.
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What's going on? What's
the problem? I am confused. And I kind of like you.
We aren't so arrogant as to presume that our wit is so rapier-like that
it cuts to the quick, that we have left our small-but-sturdy readership
in the reference dust. But it seems we have created unnecessary confusion.
It seems that we do this frequently, especially when making reference
to media entities larger than ourselves involved in complex matters
legal and financial.
We like everyone, probably more than they think. Probably more than
is healthy. And we are sad when we confuse, disappoint.
There aren't any problems
we know about. Well, that isn't entirely true. We have our good days
and our bad days, as would a kindly older person we wish might be around
to provide grandperson-like advice. But no one has told us there is
a problem, or, rather, that they have a problem with us. Well, that isn't
true either, and here, like a petulant child, we would like to somehow
work in a 'just not as funny' reference. Oh, look, we just did.
So, again, no problems
here! Sunshine and joy, all around. Including you. Please don't be confused.
Everything is back to 'normal.'
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Inspired by the above correspondence
about pseudonyms the question has arisen in my mind as to how best formulate
one's pseudonym, i.e. should one adhere to the traditional initials
on a state-issued birth certificate, or, considering the times are we
free to adlib?
Tori Radaich, a.k.a. ???
We use a number of pseudonyms around these parts for the obvious reason:
to make it seem like there are more of us than one would think. In fact,
we do not even constitute a single person (the entire website is created
from a macro that simply fetches the work of other people and does some
computer magic, and there you go).
And some of us have terribly dull names. We like names that make us
smile, because they recall something else or someone else that we like.
Or that are funny, or, rather, just not as funny.
We find inspiration in the unnoticed works of 'southern' authors, public
figures in commerce, and historical figures. And if that fails us, we
consult a high school yearbook from what we think is Yemassee, South
Carolina, but cannot be sure, as the cover has been torn off.
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Why is it called a mopier? Doesn't
that name practically doom the thing to a sad existence? That story made
me sad. And office appliances always do get the best views. I suspect
that is because humans would fight over the significance of who gets the
Though it may not appear to the contrary, we really do not have great
insight into the doings of organizations that are not us. This thing,
'mopier,' we do not know. But your having asked, we too have a sting of
melancholy. Without knowing anything about this device, its name seems
only to imply a drab inelegance. Our best guess would be that it is not
unlike a photocopier, often called a copier, but somehow less. A flawed
semblance. It would be sad indeed to think something exists out there
fitting such a description.
Not wanting to fail you, we did consult the wonders of the Internet, and
we have such very good news. The mopier, still saddled with an unfortunate
moniker, is much more than a bad copier. We are told that mopier isn't
the awkward contraction of, say, 'mediocre-copier.' It stands, instead,
for 'multiple-original-prints.' How this is, we do not know. But it seems
that the mopier doesn't actually copy; it makes, well, you guessed, multiple
original prints. The mechanics of this, we are sure, are beyond our skills.
If we are to believe the news we find laying around, a mopy is every bit
as good as the original. That, at least, may help the self-esteem issues
it is sure to suffer. And try not to think of the mopy as mo-py; think
of it as mopp-y.
We also think, though we aren't sure, but 'mopier' might be a restricted
use trade name. Like, when you want to yell down the hall: "Can you make
Xer- of this?" but you cut yourself off, knowing what a transgression
this is, because there is that quiet gentleman from Xer- who will raise
his hand every time you almost say Xer- inappropriately (in this case,
because the 'photocopier' on your floor is a Min-, and the nearest Xer-
is two floors up). In the meantime, say mopier all you want. We will get
back to you if we are sued.
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was wondering if you thought it would be wise for me to announce that
as a senior at UC Santa Cruz, in 1990, I had a story, "Confessions of
a Love-Letter Writer," published in the short-lived student publication
"Hysteria" under the name Lindy Berman. I am not, in fact, named Lindy
Berman. I was spiteful and worried. My first sumbission to this publication
had been rejected, I thought perhaps a pseudonym would increase my chances
of being published. (It worked!) I just want to clear things up. So,
do you think this is a good idea?
Sara Eve Roseman
Dear Sara Eve:
Many wonderful and talented writers have embraced psuedonyms. Some of
our favorites writers found this useful for whatever reason. We are
glad it worked for you. In fact, we think you shouldn't let the burden
of guilt inhibit your future writing career. And we congratulate you,
at this late date, on your success.
the event that you still feel the need to come clean, we would be happy
to be the official outlet for this information.
[the above names have been changed -ed.]
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OK. Now what?
(You're stuck aren't you?)
With understanding and discretion,
Things like this. (Maybe.)
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Dear M.C. (Hammer):
Are you, or have you ever
been Nicholas Musolino? If so, my name is Jeff. Nice to meet you. If
not, then disregard the previous introduction.
yr pal (sort of, but not yet fully),
Your question seems to unfortunately reference HUAC. We don't presume that
whatever we do warrants strident protests of privacy either as a position
or to extend this joke. Neither are we simpering liberals seeing such
material as utterly off limits; we just don't think it is worth the
For those with less interest in the mechanics of the Internet, the WHOIS
record lookup for this domain is registered to Nicholas Musolino. The
'other' domains have different records. It would follow that Nicholas
Musolino is 'responsible' for this site. We don't wish to be duplicitous,
but your question doesn't really add to the generally available information
about this site. Is the answer to this 'who' question material? As we
said yesterday, we are. We hope you like it.
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There are those of us that
laugh at the Pope. There are those of us who watch C-Span for fun. There
are those of us that wear gold sequined women's underpants.
And then there are those of us who are very, very much confused.
After one week of pure torture and pain over the fact that my beloved
McSweeney's webpage is permanently blue, this page emerged. It looked
like the old McSweeney's, just a little less funny. I sat in my grey
desk chair with wheels and said "Huh." Anyone could notice the differences
here: more pictures, a different font in the header, and no "Letters
From Melissa Cruz's Father." I figured that it was all right, and I
could get my McSweeney's fix. The nation's children sobbed: "At least
it is McSweeney's!"
Then, shock- mcsweeneys.net has returned. Now, I am even more confused.
Two McSweeney's? I wondered idly, until mcsweeneys.net soon announced
having no affiliation with this mcsweeneys.org; in fact, it claims to
be just as befuddled as I!
I have only one question for you now: What the hell is going on? There
are two McSweeney's, and they seem just a lit-tle too familiar for me...
A recent review of
emails reveals a suspicious number of emails from the sort of places
that give out email addresses for free, without limit. Now, these are
fine places to hang out. Your children can probably play there unattended.
However, that doesn't mean there isn't the possibility of mischief.
We are not questioning the validity of you, or your question, Meg, but
we want to alert you to the dangers of misrepresentation; we wouldn't
want you to be the Meg Who Cried Wolf. We are devout adherents to the
credo of clean living, and abhor falsity wherever it may be found.
We received a congratulatory email last week from the good people at
the company that makes this Internet thing possible, and it said, in
part, "you are on your way toward making a name for yourself on
the Internet!" Perhaps they could help you more, since we suspect
they have something to do with all this, given that unerring prediction.
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Now I'm confused. Are you stupid or am I?
[Note: the following reply was provided by Lorina herself -ed.]
Thank you for your question. It is a fine question. It has an answer.
This answer has been too long already. Hi.
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There's something rotten
in Denmark. Those pinchers making up a part of your banner - sometimes
I feel they are being handled in a friendly manner - other times, I
sense some menacing. Which is it?
Concerned (sometimes), and unconcerned (at other times),
yr pal (maybe - I'm still a little wary)
The pincers in question
are from an engraving demonstrating the correct process for installing?
inserting? (we lack a knowledge and appreciation for the terminology
of the 'body arts') nose rings for identification in swine. Now, we
don't intend for that explanation to be taken as an explicit or implicit
critical commentary of anyone, but to only to share, that, indeed, somewhere,
those pincers hurt.
We are. We are not
trying to hurt. But, we are also fallible, human; we err, and thus some
may be hurt. For this we apologize sincerely.
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I am generally a logical
and pragmatic person. Excepting in matters of theheart, where I am at
once emotional and yet artificially removed. What I mean to say is that
I want to jump in without checking the waters, but like a bossy lifeguard,
I also, grab myself and preach to myself about the dangers of untested,
unchartered, murky depths, and so on and so forth.
In any case, once again, at the tender age of 40, a 10 year marriage
ending in divorce, two children, broken dreams, I am here to ask you
- should I have followed my heart? Or should I have followed my gut?
My gut was right, again, you see.
My heart is very sweet, but it is like a mildly retarded person. (No
offense meant - I am not sure if the word retarded is politically incorrect,
and if it is, what is the PC word for retarded?) Whereas my gut is often
correct - "Don't listen to that extremely good looking man any longer.
He can't be trusted!" - and so it turns out that the extremely good
looking man is wholly untrustworthy, and my gut says "Nyah, Nyah, you
shoulda listened to me and then you wouldn't be writing the ASK MC column!"
So, I guess I answered my own question.
We are glad we could be there for you. Heart? Gut? Who can say? Maybe
in a better world they would speak with a unitary voice, and no one
would be forced to choose, make literal distinctions, weigh the good
vs. the less good.